Yesterday, we mourned the loss of a legend as we remembered the one year anniversary of the passing of George. A. Romero. Regarded as the "Godfather of the Dead", Romero was largely known for his zombie films which began with Night of the Living Dead (1968). But what about his other films which have been largely overshadowed by hordes of the walking dead?...
...My first encounter with Romero's work came with Night of the Living Dead when I was around thirteen. I had always been familiar with Russel Sreiner's line, "they're coming to get you, Barbara", so while I knew the film was a classic, I was not prepared for the ninety-six minutes of pure terror, or an ending that floored me and continues to haunt me to this day. It's no wonder that this and Romero's other "dead" films were so hugely popular and essentially defined what the zombie genre is today. Don't forget, before Romero and Night of the Living Dead, the word "zombie" referred to brainwashed victims in voodoo culture, and had nothing to do with walking corpses.
I never had the pleasure of meeting Romero before he passed away from a brief battle with lung cancer. But everyone I know who has ever met him assures me that he was a wonderful person beaming with charisma and intelligence. He was also an incredible director who achieved great success beyond his zombie films, with works like The Crazies and Creepshow. But there were other films of Romero's which are lesser known that deserve just as much credit that go largely undiscussed amongst the modern horror public. The following is not a "best of" list. It is NO PARTICULAR ORDER, because this is meant to be a tribute to Romero, not a ranking. So, in honor of Romero, lets take a look at three of his films that deserve to be seen and talked about by fans that have yet to discover them.
3. Martin (1978)
Synopsis: A young man named Martin who believes he is a vampire goes to live with his uncle in small-town Pennsylvania, where he indulges in his blood-thirsty urges.
Though probably the most well respected of the three films listed below, I feel like Martin is the least seen on this list. I get it, it's a film from the late seventies, and most modern horror fans come from the jump scare era where actual suspense and character development is seen as "too slow" or boring. But Martin should not be overlooked. It also wouldn't kill you to take out the fake fangs, turn off Snapchat and treat your overstimulated brain to a good old-fashioned slow burn, before it melts and leaks out of your head.
The film, in my view, is decades ahead of its time. Likely inspired by a time when the vampire was beginning to become a tad stale due to countless Universal and Hammer films, among others, Martin is a bold response to the over-saturation, presenting a "vampire" tale where, even by the film's end, the audience is still questioning whether or not Martin (John Amplas) ever really was a vampire. It's a brilliant portrayal of a disturbed killer that plays on vampiric stereotypes and manages to pump a little blood into the genre by giving horror fans something new and fresh, remaining to this day a surprise for any blood-sucking vamp lovers out there.
2. Monkey Shines (1988)
Synopsis: Allan is a quadriplegic man who is given a helper monkey to assist him with daily living. But it isn't long before the monkey develops a deep connection with Allan...and a deadly, jealous rage towards his enemies and loved ones.
At first glance, Monkey Shines sounds pretty dumb. Like, lighting off firecrackers in your shorts dumb. It's a ridiculous concept, and I'm not going to persuade you otherwise. But for any who don't think there's any way this film can be scary, well, you've never seen a helper monkey full of more rage than The Hulk after he rips the last pair of shorts that actually fit him. That rage is only matched by the enthralling performance from Jason Beghe (Allan), who delivers a painful representation of a man struggling to fight against the hate building inside of him over his new handicap. Okay, so the film isn't actually scary, but it is a powerful, angry movie with strong, interesting characters. Most of the kills are pretty by the numbers, but there's something about the fact that they're being committed by a little helper monkey that propels Monkey Shines into fun, B-horror territory with genuine emotional drama between man and monkey that will have you wondering what sort of psychic connection you have with YOUR pet.
1. The Dark Half (1993)
Synopsis: Based off of Stephen King's novel, The Dark Half tells the story of a writer who tries to put an end to his alter ego by hosting a faux burial/publicity stunt...an alter ego that just doesn't want to stay dead, and will do anything it can to take over the writer's life.
Romero may not have worked with King as much as some other directors, but holy shit, were they good together. Of this list, The Dark Half is easily my favorite. It's also pretty different from the usual Romero film. Romero tended to focus heavily on intriguing characters trapped in battles between the soul and mind with a backdrop of impending horror. The Dark Half is a little more standard, relishing more in bloodshed and fun one-liners than the intricacies of character. Don't take that as a knock on the characters though. George Stark, (Timothy Hutton), Thad's murderous alter ego, is a thrill to watch, with a personality similar to Freddy Kruger or Chucky. He relishes in the chaos he causes. Typing it here can't do it justice, but one scene involves Stark chasing his next victim down a hallway in an apartment complex, where a neighbor pokes their head out to ask what's going on, and he responds, "murder, want some?" Its this type of dark humor and visceral practical effects (which the film is loaded with) that make The Dark Half a blast to watch from beginning to end. If your alter ego tries to stop you, hit it in the head with a shovel and bury its metaphysical ass. I'm pretty sure it won't come back for revenge...pretty sure...
Romero may be gone, but he'll always live on as one of the masters of the genre, a man who inspired horror fans around the world, and will continue to inspire fans for generations to come. Rest in peace, Mr. Romero. Thank you for everything you've done for us, your fans.
What do you consider Romero's most underrated films? Let us know by leaving a comment below!
By Matt Konopka